Global solidarity to fight poverty and build peace, says Pope
In his message for World Day of Peace, Benedict XVI looks at the “moral implications” of poverty and the false correlation between poverty and birthrate. Military spending takes resources from help to development. A global financial system that is limited to the short and very short term is dangerous for everyone. For the rich it is “foolish to build a luxury home in the midst of desert or decay.” Click on link at the end for full text.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – We need a soul to help development, fight poverty (which is both cause and consequence of war), and manage globalisation. When left to its own devices the latter has shown that it cannot solve the problems of the needy. A financial sector that is not fixated on short term gain is also a must. Ultimately what is needed is a “change of life- styles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies” (n. 15). In a nutshell, this is what Benedict XVI is saying in his message for World Day of Peace, which will be celebrated on 1 January 2009.

The 17-page document titled Fighting poverty to build peace begins with the notion that “fighting poverty requires attentive consideration of the complex phenomenon of globalization,” (n.2) and goes on to argue that poverty is not only material for people in rich countries also experience “marginalization, as well as affective, moral and spiritual poverty.”

Poverty thus has “moral implications” like those involved in the often made false correlation between poverty and population growth resulting in “international campaigns [. . .] to reduce birth-rates, sometimes using methods that respect neither the dignity of the woman, nor the right of parents to choose responsibly how many children to have; graver still, these methods often fail to respect even the right to life” for the “extermination of millions of unborn children, in the name of the fight against poverty, actually constitutes the destruction of the poorest of all human beings” (n.3).

More to the point, the papal message demonstrates the groundlessness of the correlation poverty-demography by the fact that in 1981 around 40 per cent of the world's population lived below the absolute poverty line, a percentage that today has been almost halved. What is more, countries that are emerging on the world stage as new economic powers “have experienced rapid development specifically because of the large number of their inhabitants.” Even though the Pope does not mention them in his message, China and India come immediately to mind. Likewise “it is especially hard to combat AIDS, a major cause of poverty, unless the moral issues connected with the spread of the virus are also addressed,” (n.4) he wrote.

Child poverty and vulnerability must be considered from the same perspective to the extent that they are linked to the weakened status of the family. “When the family is weakened, it is inevitably children who suffer. If the dignity of women and mothers is not protected, it is the children who are affected most” (n.5).

Poverty’s moral dimension is also affected by the “relationship between disarmament and development.” It is evident that the “immense military expenditure, involving material and human resources and arms, is in fact diverted from development projects for peoples, especially the poorest who are most in need of aid” (n.6). The arms race creates “pockets of underdevelopment and desperation, so that it can paradoxically become a cause of instability, tension and conflict.”

For the Pontiff another aspect of the struggle against poverty is the food crisis, which “is characterized not so much by a shortage of food, as by difficulty in gaining access to it and by different forms of speculation: in other words, by a structural lack of political and economic institutions capable of addressing needs and emergencies” (n.7).

If poverty’s causes are global, globalisation requires “a strong sense of global solidarity between rich and poor countries, as well as within individual countries, including affluent ones.” This means that “[a] ‘common code of ethics’ is also needed, consisting of norms based not upon mere consensus, but rooted in the natural law inscribed by the Creator on the conscience of every human being (cf Rom 2:14-15)” (n.8).

Globalisation in fact “eliminates certain barriers, but is still able to build new ones; it brings peoples together, but spatial and temporal proximity does not of itself create the conditions for true communion and authentic peace. Effective means to redress the marginalization of the world's poor through globalization will only be found if people everywhere feel personally outraged by the injustices in the world and by the concomitant violations of human rights” (n.8).

Indeed, Benedict XVI’s views with regards to economics and finance are very much up-to-date. The financial sector is especially significant because of globalisation, modern electronics and the liberalisation of capital flow.

Although the “recent crisis demonstrates how financial activity can at times be completely turned in on itself, lacking any long-term consideration of the common good,” the “lowering of the objectives of global finance to the very short term reduces its capacity to function as a bridge between the present and the future, and as a stimulus to the creation of new opportunities for production and for work in the long term. Finance limited in this way to the short and very short term becomes dangerous for everyone, even for those who benefit when the markets perform well” (n.10).

Understanding its causes from a global point of view means that “the fight against poverty requires cooperation both on the economic level and on the legal level, so as to allow the international community, and especially poorer countries, to identify and implement coordinated strategies to deal with the problems discussed above, thereby providing an effective legal framework for the economy.”

At the same time experience shows that “policies which place too much emphasis on assistance underlie many of the failures in providing aid to poor countries. Investing in the formation of people and developing a specific and well-integrated culture of enterprise would seem at present to be the right approach in the medium and long term” (n.11).

“If the poor are to be given priority, then there has to be enough room for an ethical approach to economics on the part of those active in the international market, an ethical approach to politics on the part of those in public office, and an ethical approach to participation capable of harnessing the contributions of civil society at local and international levels” (n.12).

We must overcome the idea that the problems of development, aid and international cooperation can be solved “without any real attention to the human element, but as merely technical questions—limited that is, to establishing structures, setting up trade agreements, and allocating funding impersonally. What the fight against poverty really needs are men and women who live in a profoundly fraternal way and are able to accompany individuals, families and communities on journeys of authentic human development” (n.13).

Finally, in “today's globalized world, it is increasingly evident that peace can be built only if everyone is assured the possibility of reasonable growth: sooner or later, the distortions produced by unjust systems have to be paid for by everyone. It is utterly foolish to build a luxury home in the midst of desert or decay. Globalization on its own is incapable of building peace, and in many cases, it actually creates divisions and conflicts. If anything it points to a need: to be oriented towards a goal of profound solidarity that seeks the good of each and all. In this sense, globalization should be seen as a good opportunity to achieve something important in the fight against poverty, and to place at the disposal of justice and peace resources which were scarcely conceivable previously.” (FP)

For the full text, click here.